What's universal & what's modified in Globalised markets

With liberalisation, we in India, have had a flurry of new products entering the market over the last 17 years. And if we look around, what Prof Levitt said is possibly more true than ever before. A youth in India is using a Nokia mobile phone, a Lenovo laptop, Nike shoes, pulls out a Coke can from a Whirlpool refrigerator, wearing Levi jeans, hops on to Honda Motor cycle wearing Rayban sunglasses ...

But in one critical element Prof Levitt was wrong. Most of the above mentioned products were possibly developed for the Indian market and may not be available in any other parts of the world.

Was Prof Levitt wrong? That brings into focus the issue of 'Customisation'. As a verb, to customise means 'to modify or build according to individual or personal specifications or preference'. What's to be noted are the words, 'modify' and 'build'. Prof. Levitt's prophesy must be seen within the context of these two words. Most 'customised' products around the world today are just 'modified', not built from scratch. What's universal is the product, the need fulfilling activity its use undertakes. Universality of needs result in products that are universal. Yet what changes is the 'expression' of that need. That's what results in the need for modifications. The source of the varied expression can lie embedded within issues that could be geographical, cultural, psychological and so on.

Let me demonstrate with an example. Hunger is universal. Food that satiates hunger again is universal. That hunger satiating food can take the form of a pizza. Which is, Pizzas can be eaten to satiate hunger. The 'pizza' part is standard. Its the difference in 'palates' that drive menu customisations, ie., modifications to the original pizza. A topping like pepperoni may find favour in the West, but in India, its the 'chicken tikka' that's a runaway winner.

Prof. Levitt was in effect, prophesying the 'pizza invasion'. He in no way wanted Indians not have the Chicken Tikka pizza. And that's what we need to read from his seminal work, 'The Globalization of Markets'.


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